[WATCH] Muscat quizzes blood bank consultant on donation-ban for gays

Labour Leader Joseph Muscat quizzes blood bank consultant on blood donations ban by gay men during blood donation centre tour.

Labour Leader Joseph Muscat and Health Minister Joe Cassar after their tour of the Blood Donation Centre (Picture: Ray Attard)
Labour Leader Joseph Muscat and Health Minister Joe Cassar after their tour of the Blood Donation Centre (Picture: Ray Attard)

Labour Leader Joseph Muscat took the opportunity to quiz National Blood Transfusion Service Consultant Alex Aquilina as to the local policy to ban 'practicing' gay men from donating blood during a tour of the Blood Donation Centre on Friday morning.

Muscat was greeted by Health Minister Joe Cassar who, unannounced, also visited the blood donation centre to accompany Muscat on his tour around the premises.

It was a humorous moment when Muscat jovially strode forward to greet the health minister with a "Hi, Joe," to which a smiling Cassar also replied with "Hi, Joe."

Asked by Maltatoday as to why he felt the need to drop by unannounced at a Labour Party press event, Cassar said that it was a matter of protocol.

"This is a public place that falls under government's remit. I am health minister, and it is ethical and protocol that when the Leader of the Opposition visits a place, I be there to welcome him. That is essentially the reason."

Asked if this applies to all such press events, Cassar said "if he should go to a hospital, I would do the same. When the Leader of the Opposition visits officially, I am always there to greet them."

He said that this extends to visits by the President and the Prime Minister, and such persons who visit in their official capacity.

Cassar added that "it would be insulting if I do not attend and greet them," while adding that the visit was a very cordial one, and that the Labour leader welcomed his presence.

During the visit, Muscat and Cassar toured the various clinics in the centre, greeting blood donors who were in the act of donating blood, as well as the medical personnel stationed at the centre.

When quizzed by Muscat on the reasoning behind the local ban on blood donations from homosexual men, consultant Alex Aquilina denied that the local health system discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.

He insisted it rather requires that all blood donors to not have engaged in male-with-male sexual relations for up to a year before donating blood.

Acquilina said that this was because of the higher risk of blood-transmitted diseases that the male-with-male homosexual intercourse means. He said that this risk is twice as high than heterosexual intercourse.

Aquilina also added that Malta was following in the footsteps of other EU countries and following their models in this regard, and is paying close attention to developing research on the issue.

During a brief address following the visit, Muscat emphasised Labour's support for the work going on in the Blood Donation Center, and affirmed labour's commitment to supporting the initiative.

 "We appeal to everyone to donate blood if they can," Muscat said, before going on to put a twist on Labour's electoral slogan which Aquilina had mentioned in passing earlier: "The blood bank belongs to us all."

Muscat also thanked the doctors and medical personnel working in the centre.

Answering questions from the media, both Muscat and Cassar affirmed their stands that any barring or prohibition of individuals from donating blood "must be based on risk and scientifically proven facts, and not orientation."

Muscat said that a Labour government would ensure that this principle is upheld in the local health system, and said that it would examine other EU models carefully "always keeping in mind risk-assessment studies."

Asked about whether Labour would consider introducing an incentive for organ and blood donors, Muscat said that "we must be careful not to create a market."

He said that any incentivises introduced for this sort of donation "must be marginal" and insisted that they should be "small enough that they do not tilt one's decision toward donating."

Both he and Cassar agreed upon this both, with Cassar insisting that any such donations market would be especially vulnerable to those already at risk.

@ rcasha Exactly the point. Hetros who have a liberal sex life can have blood tainted with all sorts of nasties
It is promiscuity that poses a risk, not sexual orientation. Two men who are faithful to one another pose no risk.